Facebook (FB) has more users in India than any other country. But its biggest market is also a tough one.
Its messaging service WhatsApp has been linked to over a dozen lynchings. Facebook has since made several changes to the app.
Ankhi Das is Facebook’s public policy director for India and South Asia and its top executive in New Delhi (until a new India managing director starts in early 2019.)
Das spoke to CNN Business this month about some of the biggest challenges and opportunities. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What India means to Facebook
India is a very, very big priority for us company wide. It has leadership attention of an extremely high order.
I am extremely bullish … in terms of opportunity and the diversity that our country offers for any internet platform to be successful, and particularly our platform because we are all about community and India is a very community-centered country.
The future is already here as far as India is concerned. It’s not the future of internet which will come at some point of time, it’s already here.
Indian languages and their potential
I think our main area of work where we have to do a lot more is making sure that our language localization moves much farther and faster. A lot of the internet consumption is happening in local languages.
Facebook is already available in 11 Indian languages but we do anticipate that that is a momentum that will continue to grow.
The importance of video
Video is a big priority for us company wide, and in India, too, it is a very big priority. We have a large business partnerships team which is looking into this and working with our … product teams to make sure that India continues to be a very big focus.
We do think that video consumption is going to increase in a variety of ways, for a variety of needs, from entertainment to politics to news.
Digital literacy and fighting abuse
A lot of the people who are coming online in the next phase of growth are going to be first time internet users. Therefore our ability to make sure that people have the tools to understand what are safe internet practices [is] going to be a very important area of work.
I think the stability and growth of the internet is all going to be driven by how safe people feel on the internet.
There is the dark side to the internet as well. You have to make sure that you are enforcing against those bad actors so that they go away and don’t stay on the platform, and we are working on that.
We have a lot of rural users who are coming online for the first time. Making sure that they can teach themselves how to keep safe is something that we are highly invested in.
We are very, very committed to abuse prevention of any form. In India the situation is particularly acute with regard to gender … and as we look to our next generation. I look at it from the perspective both as an Indian and as a south Asian woman and as a mother.
We will have to make sure that the next phase of growth and online users … many of them women and children, have a safe environment to engage.
Fake news and misinformation
Fighting fake news and misinformation is a constant process and something where everybody … has to share a load and carry some responsibility.
When people are consuming content they have to have the capacity to distinguish what is fake and what is true. I think there is a capacity gap and we have a responsibility to address that gap, and that is what we are doing.
Technology is a platform but a lot of the stuff that we are seeing is societal, and therefore we have to work together to make sure that there is a product resolution but also that there is a community resolution in terms of shaping behaviors.
You can’t say … fake news will never happen. It’s such a menace in any society. But you must have a very strong containment strategy.
Women using the internet
I think what is happening now is that women have the tools which makes it easier for them to start a business, build market access, recognition and build a viable business.
They are also creating employment for other women. So we are seeing a lot of that work happening. It’s not just about them creating viable businesses but also lifting other women, getting them to enter the workforce, and that is uplifting. When you have economic power at home you have negotiation power too.
India’s upcoming elections
The first element is maintaining elections integrity, which means that we are going to enforce policies. We are going to be very strict in terms of enforcing against fake accounts.
So we are going to be doing a close hard look in terms of enforcing against fakes and other activities.
Our goal now is to educate [political] parties about … what is allowed on the platform and what is not.
We as a company across the board respect privacy regulation. And we think this is long overdue, India needs a data protection law.
What is challenging and problematic is the trends which we are seeing around data localization. If you look at the history of globalization, the first phase was about globalization of capital, the current phase is about globalization of data.
Digitalization is global in character, it’s not insular. Therefore if you bring in very strict definitions of data localization, across a range of sectors, I think … it is a perverse thing and should not happen.